The next major art installation coming to the Morton Arboretum will feature five sculptures on the same scale as the giant trolls that helped the tree museum in Lisle set an attendance record.
Opening in June, the “Human+Nature” exhibit by South African artist Daniel Popper will bring sculptures of staggering size — 20 to 25 feet tall — to the arboretum landscape. Popper will create the larger-than-life figures that have humanlike hands and curves and natural materials.
“The Morton Arboretum is the ideal place to create interactive art that connects people with trees and nature,” Popper said in an announcement of the project Wednesday. “The backdrops at the Arboretum are incredible places to tell stories through art about how we all coexist with trees. Trees look after us as much as we look after them.”
More nurturing than imposing, a figure inspired by Popper’s signature Mother Nature sculpture will invite arboretum visitors to walk inside a form interwoven with intricate root structures. Like the trolls, others in the collection will be spread across the arboretum’s 1,700 acres, enticing visitors to venture out of their cars and take in the natural setting.
“They’re really beautiful locations, and I think it will be exciting for people to walk out and see these landscapes as well as see and discover the sculptures,” said Sarah Sargent, the arboretum’s manager of interpretation and exhibits.
One will stand near Meadow Lake, and the arboretum’s East and West sides will each have two sculptures. Popper scouted those areas during a September tour of the campus.
“When we talked to him about the themes we wanted to explore, we talked about how trees need people and people need trees,” Sargent said. “And we talked about the fact that humans and nature are deeply interconnected and that as we give to trees, they give back to us. And those were the kinds of things that really resonated with him as he began design concepts.”
Popper and his team will ship the modular pieces and return in the late spring to assemble the sculptures at the arboretum, allowing visitors to see the installation unfold until the opening on June 12.
Arboretum leaders discovered Popper’s work on social media. He has built a memorial to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in South Africa and art installations for music festivals in Portugal and Australia. But Human+Nature will be his largest.
“His work is really spectacular, and when you look at his Instagram account, you can see the interest and excitement that’s been generated at other areas around the world,” Sargent said.
The sculptures will take up residence two years after the blockbuster exhibit by Danish artist Thomas Dambo opened at the museum with equally engaging and expressive wooden trolls.
Inspired by Scandinavian folklore, the mighty guardians of the forest still lay claim to the arboretum’s woods and meadows and even a parking lot. The most prominent in the bunch is Joe the Guardian, who stands guard above the Reagan Memorial Tollway with a 30-foot spear and a wild mane.
“The trolls will be here through the end of June 2020, so we encourage people, if they want to see the trolls, to come back this spring and reacquaint,” Sargent said.
The arboretum expects Popper’s sculptures will remain on display through June 2021.